The French progressive rock band Esthesis made quite a splash with their high quality 2020 debut album The Awakening, winning the ‘Best Unsigned Act’ in the Prog Magazine Readers Poll, and they have recently returned with second album Watching Worlds Collide. Esthesis stated that The Awakening was about the notion of identity and yet, conversely, was clearly so heavily Pink Floyd influenced. Such obvious comparisons gave that release a curious irony, although it was clear this was a highly talented outfit. So it was interesting to see what identity they had carved out for themselves on Watching Worlds Collide.
Opening song Amber immediately tells us that Esthesis have definitely moved on from the sunny upland meadows of Floydian soundscapes with a decidedly more jazzy laid-back feel, with languid piano and some cool bass. As we progress it morphs into a more forceful Porcupine Tree-like riff (another clear influence on the debut)… but that’s OK. All bands are influenced by predecessors to a certain extent – it’s what a band does with those inspirations that is important. A serpentine and dirty sounding guitar line evokes a shadowy, urban world receding into a more restrained conclusion with subtle hints of horns, feeling like someone walking away into the foggy mists of a city. This rather seedy atmosphere continues with Place Your Bets, suffused with sultry sounds and smoky rhythms, particularly Marc Anguill’s atmospheric bass – indeed his stylish bass is outstanding and underpins the whole album with cool assurance. Aurélien Goude’s dreamy voice is perfect for the feel of this song, and Maceo Le Fournis’ excellent tenor saxophone takes us right into the casino world of this song… and yet in the background there are always hints of the more expansive, progressive accents so beloved of the band on their debut album.
In contrast, Skimming Stones starts sparsely with piano, subtle percussion and Goude’s soft vocals. This is a slow-burning piece, showing restraint and artistry, reaching a beautiful crescendo with Mathieu Vilbert’s melancholic violin. Aurélien Goude is the star of this piece with his delicate vocals, and subtle piano. Goude is also evidently the heart and soul of this album and the band, writing all the music and lyrics and also contributing drum and bass programming, lap steel guitar, guitar, harmonica and special effects.
The jazzier soul of this album is exemplified by the instrumental Vertigo which has a recurrent earworm keyboard motif and grooves along on another great bass and drum backing from Arnaud Nicolau, embroidered with dashes of horns and a slithering, sinuous guitar solo. We are a million miles away from their previous journeys into Floydian soundscapes. Instead, we seem to be walking through a 1950’s Film Noir set, especially the atmospheric and cinematic 57th Street. This extended piece remains coolly detached with yet another mesmerising rhythm section the essential musical backdrop to a sleazy tale of desperate passion on the run, painted languorously with sleazy piano. Goude’s dreamy vocal style is perfectly suited for the story and his voice intertwines sensuously with Mathilde Collet’s femme fatale vocals.
The standout track is Wandering Cloud, which floats in softly on a light groove and grows hypnotically, with some great additional vocal interplay between Goude and Collet. The clouds grow decidedly darker halfway through as a harder riff develops, accompanied with a horn refrain and vocoder vocals, which then drop away seemingly into the distance with whistling. However, out of nowhere a banjo-led groove picks up the reins again (of course it does!?!). That may sound weird, but trust me it works.
In some ways, Wandering Cloud and the final song Through My Lens characterise the theme of Watching Worlds Collide as Esthesis skilfully bring seemingly disparate musical instruments and styles together and mould them into coherent and engagingly unusual pieces. Through My Lens swings seamlessly between a laid-back jazz club and great waves of organ-led rock. Halfway through the horns join the wave, preceding another fine but ever so slightly sleazy guitar solo by Baptiste Desmares. The sinister drama builds and builds musically but eventually morphs us into what feels like another smoky late night jazz club, and like all good Film Noir, fades away enigmatically.
Previously, the band have proclaimed that their music is “primarily based on emotions and ambiences”. Watching Worlds Collide is definitely a more distinctive and original evocation of emotions, melding different styles smoothly and imaginatively. In y review of the debut I justifiably but rather mischievously stated that England had the real Pink Floyd, followed by the German Floyd, RPWL. Then Norway brought us the Norwegian Floyd, Airbag, and so it seemed that in Esthesis France had their very own new French Floyd!! However, I also identified that musically that debut clearly demonstrated they had great promise and I hoped that in future they would develop more of their own distinctive identity. Well, Watching Worlds Collide has certainly taken them well away from being a quasi-tribute band and they have rather more adventurously explored other genres, melding them together with great imagination and skill.
Some may miss their previous forays into rather obvious Pink tinged soundscapes. Hopefully most will stay with Esthesis and yet more will join them on their journey as they carve out their own distinctive musical path with their own unique voice. One of the biggest compliments I can pay to this album is that it sounds just like… Esthesis! It is hard to imagine another band coming up with such an interesting collision of styles, showing growing artistic confidence and a developing vision.
01. Amber (6:46)
02. Place Your Bets (7:23)
03. Skimming Stones (5:12)
04. Wandering Cloud (6:00)
05. Vertigo (5:00)
06. 57th Street (12:00)
07. Through My Lens (8:08)
– Bonus Track on Red Deluxe Edition:
08. Skimming Stones (Alternate Final Solo Version) (5:11)
Total Time – 50:29 (Standard Edition)
Aurélien Goude – Vocals, Keyboards, Lap Steel Guitar (tracks 4 & 6), Guitar (2) Harmonica (7), Drum/FX Programming (3 & 8) Bass Programming (6)
Baptiste Desmares – Lead Guitar
Marc Anguill – Bass Guitar
Arnaud Nicolau – Drums
Mathilde Collet – Additional Backing Vocals (tracks 1,2,4 & 6)
P-Horns Section (tracks 1,2,4,5 & 7)
– Maceo Le Fournis – Tenor Saxophone
– Axel Foucan – Trombone
– Yannis Beugre – Trumpet
Matthieu Vilbert – Violin (tracks 3 & 8)
Vincent Blanot – Banjo, Electric Banjo, Mountain Dulcimer, Percussion (track 4)
Record Label: Misty Tones
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 19th August 2022
– Raising Hands [EP] (2019)
– The Awakening (2020)
– Watching Worlds Collide (2022)